Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/267

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WHISTLING.

Dr. Franklin of his nephew, who set his mind on a common whistle, which he bought of a boy for four times its value. Franklin says the "ambitious who dance attendant on court, the miser who gives this world and the next for gold, the libertine who ruins his health for pleasure, the girl who marries a brute for money, all in the long run pay too much for their whistle." Once more, the old hackneyed proverbs "To wet one's whistle" and "To whistle for more" allude to the whistle drinking-cups of days gone by. It appears that, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, silversmiths devoted a large amount of invention to the production of drinking-tankards, which took the form of men, animals, birds, etc., of most grotesque design.[1] According to one popular device, the cup had to be held in the hand to be filled, and retained there till it was emptied, as then only it could be set on the table. The drinker having swallowed the contents, blew up the pipe at the side, which gave a shrill whistle, and announced to the drawer that more liquor was required. Hence, too, no doubt, originated the phrase "whistle-drunk." Fielding relates how Squire Western, when supping one night at a friend's house, "was indeed whistle drunk," for before he had swallowed the third bottle he became so entirely overpowered that, though he was not carried off to bed till long after, the parson considered him as absent.

The idea of ghosts whistling is still far from extinct in England, and enters largely into the folk-lore of our peasantry; a superstition which has been associated with the "Seven Whistlers," supposed by some to be phantom-birds. Thus, among the colliers of Leicestershire, we are told how, when trade is brisk and money plentiful, disposing them for a drinking-frolic, they are said to hear the warning voice of the "Seven Whistlers"—birds sent purposely, as they affirm, by Providence to warn them of an impending danger, and on hearing the signal not a man will descend into the pit until the following day.[2] Wordsworth, it may be remembered, in one of his sonnets, couples the "Seven Whistlers" with the "Gabriel hounds," those weird, mysterious specter-dogs which with such fiendish yellings haunt the midnight air:


"The poor old man is greater than he seems:
He the seven birds hath seen that never part,
Seen the seven whistlers in their nightly rounds,
And counted them; and oftentimes will start,
For overhead are sweeping Gabriel's hounds."

The superstitious fear attaching to these whistlers is noticed by Spenser in his "Faerie Queen" (book ii, canto xii, stanza 36), where, "among the nation of unfortunate and fatal birds" that flocked about Sir Guyon and the Palmer, it is thus alluded to:

"The whistler shrill, that whoso hears doth die."
  1. Chambers's "Book of Days," ii, 455.
  2. "Nature," June 22, 1871, 140; "Notes and Queries," fourth series, viii, 68.